Category Archives: Baroque era

The Brandenburg Concertos as allegories

Venus Mars

Bach’s Brandenburgische Konzerte are not the epitome of absolute music, as some scholars contend; rather, they comprise an allegory of princely virtues. This reading of the works puts them in the framework of both Bach’s cantatas and the allegorical iconography that was common in the decorations of Baroque palaces.

Although not all the concertos were conceived in relation to the Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg, they were chosen for the cycle dedicated to him and are meant to reflect themes connecting him to particular figures in classical mythology: the hunter (Diana), the hero (Hercules), the patron of the arts (Apollo and the Muses), the shepherd (Pan), the lover (Venus and Mars), and the scholar (Athena).

This according to “Bachs mythologisches Geheimnis: Philip Pickett, Reinhard Goebel und das verborgene Programm der Brandenburgischen Konzerte” by Karl Böhmer (Concerto: Das Magazin für Alte Musik XII/109 [December–January 1995–96] pp. 15–17).

Above, Venus and Mars presenting arms to Aeneus by Gérard de Lairesse (1641–1711; click to enlarge). Below, the Freiburger Barockorchester performs the corresponding concerto.

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Capricornus strikes back

Samuel Capricornus

In 1657 Samuel Capricornus was summoned from Pressburg (now Bratislava) to take up the position of Kapellmeister to the Stuttgart court of Duke Eberhard III of Württemberg—to the surprise and disappointment of the organist of the Stuttgart collegiate church, Philipp Friedrich Böddecker, a distinguished composer in his own right, who had hoped to obtain the job himself.

Disputes quickly arose between Capricornus and Böddecker, as well as Böddecker’s brother David, a zinck player, who complained that Capricornus had required him outside the provisions of his contract to play the quart-zinck and to sing “such high-pitched, difficult passages” (so hohe und schwehre Stückh) that he was unable to comply “because of bodily weakness, short breath, and also declining vocal ability” (Leibsschwachheit, kurzem Athems, auch vergehende Stimme halber); and furthermore had insulted him publicly, saying he played the zinck “only like a cow-horn.”

Capricornus responded with a lengthy complaint of his own, presenting a gloomy picture of conditions in the ducal musical establishment and accusing the organist Böddecker of gluttony and drunkenness (Fressereien und Saufereien) and of being at the center of a whole network of intrigue against the Kapellmeister; moreover, “[he] did not deal especially gently with his inimical rival from the organ bench, and used all the arts of dialectic and learning to convict him of musical ignorance.”

This according to “Samuel Capricornus contra Philipp Friedrich Böddecker” by Josef Sittard (Sammelbände der Internationalen Musikgesellschaft III/1 [November 1901] pp. 87-128), which includes a complete edition of Capricornus’s grievance letter as found by the author in the ducal archives.

Below, Capricornus’s Adesto multitudo coelestis.

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Celos aun del aire matan

Celos aun del aire matan

Celos aun del aire matan: Fiesta cantada (opera in three acts)  (Middleton: A-R editions, 2014) is a critical performing edition of the earliest extant Hispanic opera, Celos aun del aire matan by Juan Hidalgo (1614–85). The work is the most extensive surviving example of Hispanic Baroque theatrical music.

Designed for the Spanish royal court’s festivities honoring the marriage of Infanta María Teresa of Spain and King Louis XIV of France, this passionate fiesta cantada in three acts was first produced in Madrid, thanks to the collaboration of Hidalgo and the court dramatist, Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–81). The opera was designed for performance by a cast of young female actress-singers (the only role requiring a male voice is for a comic tenor) and a continuo group.

This edition, which includes an extensive introduction, an English translation of the Calderón text, and a unique loa from the 1682 Naples production, contributes to a better understanding of Hidalgo’s music and the contribution of Hispanic music to early modern musical culture.

Above and below, moments from a 2000 performance of the work at the Teatro Real in Madrid.

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Vespro della Beata Vergine

Vespro della Beata Vergine Bärenreiter

In 2013 Bärenreiter issued a new Urtext edition of Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine, one of the most beloved sacred works of the 17th century.

The volume originated in a graduate seminar at the University of North Texas under the direction of the Monteverdi specialist Hendrik Schulze, who served as the book’s editor.

The edition combines the latest in musicological research specifically with the needs of the performer in mind, making a modern interpretation of this 400-year-old work possible. This new research has led, for instance, to a divergent evaluation of the Lauda Jerusalem oriented towards performance practice, with numerous additional accidentals and a new interpretation of the melodic variants from the different part books.

Below, John Eliot Gardiner leads a full performance of the work. Go ahead, you deserve it.

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Bach’s temperament

harpsichord tuning

It is unanimously accepted that the term wohltemperiert in the title of Bach’s Das wohltemperierte Klavier refers to a tuning that makes it possible to compose and perform music without restriction in all twelve major and minor keys; however, there are still divergent opinions about the tuning that Bach preferred for his composition.

One view is that so-called equal temperament was assumed, in which the octave is divded into twelve equal half-tones (the tuning which came to be generally accepted over the course of the 19th century). Other scholars dispute this, but do not agree among themselves about how the nuances of the inequality in tuning are to be divided among the individual major and minor keys.

This according to Valuable nuances of tuning for part I of J.S. Bach’s “Das wohl temperirte Clavier” by Mark Lindley (Berlin: Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, 2011), which is an open-access multimedia resource for students and performers of Bach’s work.

Below, Gustav Leonhardt’s interpretation.

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Vivaldi and Venetian wind

Giorgione Tempesta_edited-1

The prevalent air regimes dominating Venice include the regional sirocco (scirocco) wind and the strong and gusty local bora (borea, a föhn wind, from the Latin ventus favonius). The bora blows in from either the north (the Alps) or from the west (the Balkans), raising temperatures and lowering humidity; it is typically accompanied by low clouds and reduced visibility.

Vivaldi’s instrumental compositions, especially those with programmatic implications, abound with musical illustrations of winds and their rhetorical satellites. Three out of his four solo violin concertos that make up Le quattro staggioni (1725) feature winds as protagonists controlling both the imagery and the attached sonnets and the music itself.

Vivaldi’s operatic librettos are especially abundant in such allegorical keywords and rhetorical interplay. Winds and breezes, along with other stereotypical concetti—symbolic representations of animals (lion, hind, snake), various birds (goldfinch, nightingale, swallow), and butterflies—abound in his operatic arias. Often the direct verbal use of “wind” is substituted with its rhetorical alternatives such as tempest (tempesta), thunder (tuono), storm (borasca), air vortices (vortici), flashes and lightings (lampi), high sea waves (onde), clouds (nouvole), and others. The fact that most of Vivaldi’s operatic librettos were provided or adapted by local writers suggests that the wind was a symbol common to the entire Venetian tradition.

This according to “Sirocco, borea, e tutti i venti: Wind allegory in Venetian music” by Bella Brover-Lubovsky, an essay included in Musik—Raum—Akkord—Bild: Festschrift zum 65. Geburtstag von Dorothea Baumann (Bern: Peter Lang, 2012, pp. 149–162).

Above,  a detail from Giorgione’s La tempesta, a depiction of Venetian weather from the early 16th century. Below, Vivaldi’s celebrated depiction from Le quattro staggioni.

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Handel reference database

handel monument

Handel reference database is the largest collection of documents on the composer’s life, career, and early reception. This open-access online resource is the ongoing work of Ilias Chrissochoidis.

Currently at 800,000 words, it has fully absorbed Deutsch’s documentary biography on Handel up to the year 1726 and aspires to incorporate every available document on Handel through his Commemoration Festival of 1784.

Aside from providing free, direct, and permanent access to records on the Enlightenment’s most influential composer, it seeks to highlight the role of public benefit scholarship in today’s academia. HRD welcomes and fully acknowledges contributions from researchers working on the long 18th century (especially on Continental European music and theater) as well as collaborations that can accelerate its growth and improve its functionality.

Above, the monument to Handel at Westminster Abbey, where the composer’s remains are buried.

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Marie-Louise Desmâtins in life and death

4069-2559

The novel La musique du diable, ou Le Mercure galant devalisé (Paris: Robert le Turc, 1711) describes  the arrival and subsequent activities of Marie-Louise Desmâtins and Lully in Hell; it also recounts events leading up to the soprano’s demise.

In the absence of any historical record of her last days, one might ask whether there could be a modicum of truth in the novel’s reports that Desmâtins had grown so obese that she engaged the finest butcher of the day to remove her fat; that she then mounted a lavish party for which all of the food had been prepared using this fat; at that she died soon thereafter from unknown causes. The reader is assured that she was welcomed to Hell with the highest honors, and that she is happier there than she ever was in her earthly life.

This according to “La musique du diable (1711): An obscure specimen of fantastic literature throws light on the elusive opera diva Marie-Louise Desmatins (fl. 1682–1708)” by Ilias Chrissochoidis (Society for Eighteenth-Century Music newsletter 11 [October 2007] pp. 7–9).

Above, a rather alarmingly corseted Desmâtins in a contemporaneous portrait; below, the final scene of Lully’s Armide, which Desmâtins starred in in 1703 (note that this is not an attempt to replicate the original staging).

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Händel and Johnson

handel-johnson

Samuel Johnson lived in London during a struggle between English and foreign composers—epitomized by the rivalry between Händel and Thomas Arne—and witnessed its climax, which was to have a devastating impact on English musical morale through the 19th century.

During Johnson’s first decade in London this rivalry was characterized by Händel concentrating on his own affairs and ignoring Arne, while Arne was highly conscious and jealous of Händel. Their fortunes fluctuated, the one prevailing in public taste and then the other, but the spectacular performance of Händel’s 1749 Music for the royal fireworks, HWV 351, and the triumphant revival of his Messiah the next year finally established him as London’s pre-eminent composer. When he retired from the music scene in 1759 neither Arne nor any other English composer managed to achieve comparable public acclaim.

The 1784 commemoration of Händel at Westminster Abbey featured some 275 singers and an orchestra of about 250. Johnson chose to go to Oxford that week, but Boswell, having accompanied Johnson there, returned to London after three days to attend the event. Although Johnson died that year, he had lived to see the victory of a composer whose work would prove as enduring as his own.

This according to “Music in Johnson’s London” by Bruce Simonds, an essay included in The age of Johnson: Essays presented to Chauncey Brewster Tinker (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949, pp. 411–420); the book is covered RILM retrospective abstracts of music literature.

Below, Händel’s 1749 work with appropriate visuals.

Related article: Operatic degeneracy

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Investigación y patrimonio musical

Música policoral...

In 2013 Alpuerto and Centro de Investigación y Documentación Musical (CIDoM) launched the series Investigación y patrimonio musical with Música policoral de la catedral de Cuenca: Motetes al Señor y los Santos de Alonso Xuárez (1640–1696), edited by José Luis de la Fuente Charfolé.

The activities of the composer Alonso Xuárez (1640–96) were crucial for the development of the religious repertoire at the Catedral de Santa María y San Julián de Cuenca. Xuárez was responsible in great measure for the stabilization of the music chapel and its repertoire, bringing Cuenca on a par with neighboring cities in regard to the quality and breadth of its liturgical music.

The motets collected in this edition address general liturgical rituals and pay tribute to local saints and regional traditions. A list of singers and performers connected with the music chapel of Cuenca’s cathedral for the period 1661–74 is appended.

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